Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Maryland BB picked 5th in ACC preseason voting

The media covering the ACC voted North Carolina and Duke to split the men's basketball title in a shocking development. In the previous 40 years of the informal media survey either UNC or Duke has been chosen to win the ACC 30 times. I'm just surprised the media had not done this before.

Maryland was picked 5th in ACC behind UNC, Duke, Clemson and Georgia Tech. Besides UNC and Duke I don't think there are any ACC teams that have a clear advantage over Maryland. I'll have my picks for the ACC season in the coming weeks but I think 6th place is probably as low as Maryland could finish this year and could be as high as 2nd place.

Senior guard Greivis Vasquez was picked preseason All-ACC and was edged for ACC Player of the Year by Duke's Kyle Singler. Vasquez is clearly one of the best players in the ACC and barring a senior slump will likely be a 1st team All-ACC selection. If Vasquez had a decent 3-point shot he would be a national player of the year candidate.

Vasquez dominated in the first public scrimmage of the year and was head and shoulders above his teammates. With more young players on the roster and senior Dave Neal no longer around this season will test Vasquez's leadership more heavily than any prior season. I think Vasquez will be up to the challenge and seems to relish the opportunity to lead Maryland to its best season in years.

Eric Hayes may not be fully back from his turf toe even though he said that his toe felt fine. Hayes struggled badly in the scrimmage with his shooting and ball handling. On defense he looked tentative and a step slow. Turf toe tends to be a chronic problem and it would be probable that this might be a problem the rest of the season. Right now I think Hayes is the backup point guard, as he was at the end of last season, and I don't see that changing any time soon. Adrian Bowie has worked very hard in the off season and seems to have improved his outside shot. With his superior defense and ability to push the ball it is unlikely that Bowie will give way to Hayes unless he regresses. Bowie's ability to slash to the basket adds a component when on the floor with Vasquez that Hayes cannot. With the improvement of Sean Mosley, who has looked very good so far, I think Hayes' minutes will get reduced this season.

Mosley was a defensive oriented player, contrary to his high school scouting report, and really struggled on offense. I think a fair amount of his troubles were related to a wicked shooting slump that Mosley seemed unable to shake as the year went along. His confidence seems much higher this year and he was much more comfortable in the offense in the scrimmage. I expect significant improvement in his offensive game this season and will be a good contributor either as a starter or off the bench. Mosley is a throwback player who is a strong rebounder, good passer and solid defender. He has good court vision and is almost too eager to share the ball with his teammates. Last season Mosley only touched his potential and will grow into a vital player this season.

Junior Cliff Tucker continues to be an enigma. He has the talent to score bunches of points against the eventual national champion North Carolina but tends to disappear too often in games. In the scrimmage he was matched up against Jin Soo Choi and didn't exploit the matchup they way you would expect against a bigger and slower opponent. I'm not sure that Tucker has the mental attitude to take a bigger role this year.

Choi looked much improved over his freshman season when he looked overwhelmed at times. He is more confident and playing more naturally than as a freshman. I thought Choi more than held his own playing on the wing against a quicker and smaller opponent in Tucker. It seems that Gary Williams will play Choi at small forward more this season which might be more suited to his talents. He has the potential to be a useful weapon off the bench as a dead eye shooter on a team that struggled from 3-point range at times last season. Choi's defense isn't as much of a liability as it was last season and there were times during the scrimmage that Williams had Choi play the important top of the key position in some zone defense schemes.

Senior Landon Milbourne continues to be a solid but unspectacular player. He will likely stay at the "4" spot where he is undersized and more perimeter oriented player who lacks the size to be effective in the low post. He is better trying to drag out his defender away from the basket with his jump shot and then slashing past them. There was a story line that Milbourne was worn down playing in the post all season and that might be true but I doubt Milbourne would have been much more effective playing the wing in the alternative. He is a quiet leader and was willing to subvert his own glory for the good of the team. That is admirable but I don't see Milbourne increasing his 11.4 point per game by very much regardless of what position he plays.

Junior forward Dino Gregory will likely get the other starting spot for the early part of the season. Gregory is active on defense but isn't a great rebounder and has a limited offensive game that mostly revolves around jump shots. He might be useful as a "pick and pop" big man but his low post moves are not conducive to him being reliable scorer. If Gary Williams can turn Dave Neal into a useful ACC player who knows what he might be able to do with Gregory, however Neal was a much more savvy player than Gregory and had a much better instinct for the game.

It wouldn't surprise me to see Gregory quickly begin to slit time with freshman forward James Padgett. Padgett is very active in the low post and showed some decent moves on the offensive end. He runs the floor very well which is essential for a Maryland big man and is a high effort kid. He is still raw and will have problems turning the ball over but has the potential to develop into a nice complement to Milbourne at the other forward spot. Right now he is ahead of fellow freshman Jordan Williams and sophomore Steve Goins to my eye.

Jordan Williams will need a little time to get used to the speed of the college game. Padgett is also new to the college game but played in a much more competitive league in New York. Williams isn't very athletic but has a throwback style game that is mostly below the rim. Not that he has lead in his shoes but he will not wow you with his athleticism like recent forward James Gist and Ekene Ibekwe. On the other hand Tyler Hansbrough was pretty effective in the college game with a mostly below the rim style of play. Williams has ability to develop the footwork and hands to be effective given his size. Apart from conditioning, which is the biggest concern to me, Williams will be physically ready to compete in the ACC.

Steve Goins is still recovering from off season surgery. He looked a little sluggish and out of game shape. Goins is still learning how to play basketball and the time he missed over the summer has set him back in his development. He'll be challenged by the two incoming freshman and unless he starts to commit himself to improving he'll quickly find himself buried on the bench this year.

Monday, October 26, 2009

When it rains, it pours

It was a familiar story for Maryland's football team but against an unfamiliar foe. Maryland played Duke for the first time in four seasons but had the bad luck of playing a solid Blue Devils team and not the team that went 2-33 during the years that the Terps were not on the schedule. Just another great function of John Swofford's expansion disaster that finds two ACC rivals who have played every year since 1972 play once in five years.

The game was played in a deluge and you would have assumed going into that game that would benefit Maryland since Duke is very reliant on their passing game. Unfortunately Duke QB Thaddeus Lewis as fairly effective in the rain completing 30 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns. Conversly Maryland QB Chris Turner, who also struggled in bad weather against Virginia, threw for just 182 yards 67 of which came on one screen pass to Davin Meggett. Outside of that one play Turner completed 15 of 22 passes for a paltry 115 yards. In his last two games Turner has completed just 52% of his passes for 340 yards with 3 interceptions and just one touchdown. Teams have been keying on Torrey Smith and either Turner cannot get the ball to the other receivers or they have failed to get open. Most of Turner's passes to wideouts were either quick screens or dump off passes than netted little yardage. Besides Smith the other wide receivers had 77 yards on 9 receptions for a terrible 8.5 yards per catch. In the same conditions Duke had two receivers go for over 100 yards. With Smith being taken out of the last two games it has highlighted how feeble Maryland's passing game is without his big play ability. I think it is time that the staff start turning over more playing time to the younger quarterbacks on the squad so that this 2-6 squad can start building for next season.

The staff turned to frosh Caleb Pozel in an attempt to jump start the running game but on a sloppy field that negated some of Porzel's speed he failed to improve the ground attack. Pozel managed only 28 yards on 15 carries. Davin Meggett was slightly more effective in his limited action but neither back had a run of longer than nine yards. The running game will remain a big problem the rest of the season. It would be nice to see James Franklin try to play more two tight end sets to help the running attack but he just doesn't have the imagination for that. Even though Da'Rel Scott has not played in the last three games he still leads the team in rushing.

The defense had a good day even though Lewis passed for over 370 yards they made him work for every completion and he did turn the ball over twice. Duke attacked Maryland's linebackers in coverage repeatedly and had some success isolating Alex Wujciak and Ben Pooler in space. Pooler had an up and down day with a great stat sheet line of 13 tackles, a sack and forced fumble but a number of blown coverages and missed assignments. The sophomore linebacker has battled knee injuries in his early career but has shown some impressive ability in his first real action this season. Pooler has filled in well for the injured Demetrius Hartsfield and the duo could form the nucleus of a very athletic and impressive linebacking corps once Wujciak and Adrian Moten depart.

Cameron Chism picked off Lewis for his third interception of the season. As with most young players his progression won't be a straight line and he will struggle at times but he has been performing well in place of the injured Nolan Carroll. Safety Antwine Perez had a scary moment after a helmet collision in the game but is reportedly okay. Freshman Eric Franklin, who was rumored to be getting a shot to play earlier in the year, now appears to be his replacement if Perez cannot fill his normal backup safety role. With N.C. State's QB Russell Wilson up next Maryland will need all the DB's they can find.

Maryland had a chance to win the game late but an interception by Turner and a fumbled punt return by Tony Logan sealed Maryland's fate. It was the kind of ugly loss that you expect from a bad team. Make no mistake Terp fans, this is a bad team. There should be little time or energy expended on "what if" scenarios. Bad teams find ways to lose close games and this Maryland squad has done that in spades. Poor and inconsistent play from the offensive line, quarterback and running back position has doomed the offense. The defense has been more reliable but only by a slight margin. The staff seems unable to fix what is ailing the offense and the repeated shifting of the offensive line speaks to desperation more than anything. The last two weeks in a sloppy environment the opponent did a better job executing than Maryland, mostly because of superior quarterback play but also because the offensive coordinators had a better sense of playing to their strength than James Franklin has shown.

It is possible that Maryland might not win another game but I expect they might pull of another victory against either Florida State or N.C. State, a combined 1-6 in the ACC. Regardless it makes for a very, very long off season in College Park.

I watched the Maryland basketball scrimmage on Saturday and have a few thoughts on that which I'll post soon. Then we'll get into some previews of the upcoming men's basketball team and the lay of the land in the ACC.

My Week 9 Poll

1 Alabama
2 Florida
3 Texas 1
4 Southern Cal 1
5 TCU 1
6 Boise State 1
7 Iowa
8 Cincinnati
10 Georgia Tech 3
11 Oregon 1
12 Oklahoma State 2
13 Penn State 2
14 Virginia Tech
15 Ohio State 1
16 South Carolina 3
17 Utah 3
18 Houston 3
19 Pittsburgh 3
20 West Virginia
21 Arizona
22 Notre Dame
23 Miami (Florida) 8
24 Mississippi
25 California
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Brigham Young (#17), Kansas (#18), Texas Tech (#23), South Florida (#24), Nebraska (#25).

Monday, October 19, 2009

Season washes away in downpour

Saturday's loss to Virginia removed all the mystery from how this season was going to end. Maryland won't be going to a bowl game this year and will almost certainly have a losing record for the second time in the last four seasons. The hopes of turning around the season were dashed on a dreary day which forced both offenses to be conservative and demanded that they refrain from turning the ball over. It was Virginia's offense that didn't do anything to lose the game, even if they didn't do much positive to win the game either. Maryland's offense was more effective moving the ball, though 33% on 3rd down and 284 total yards isn't impressive, but two interceptions by QB Chris Turner and two fumbles doomed the Terps.

I had the thought in the closing moments of the game that it is time to start planning for next season. Turner's senior campaign has been a disaster. He looked terrible against Virginia even though his pass protection, with LT Bruce Campbell back, was fairly good. He had time to look down field but his accuracy was erratic at best and he often over threw his receiver. He only completed 42% of his passes for 158 yards and two interceptions the first of which was returned for a touchdown in the decisive play of the day. The wet conditions certainly hurt Turner but Virginia's Jameel Sewell completed 56% of his passes for 137 yards with no interceptions despite the fact that he under much more pressure, eventually sacked five times, and while playing in the same poor conditions. Turner has always had questionable accuracy down field and on deep balls his receivers almost always have to make adjustments. Maryland's passing game has turned into a dink and dunk affair failing to take advantage of the talent in the receiver corps.

In Turner's defense the offensive line has been dreadful for most of the season, though he does them no favors by holding onto the ball like he often does, and the running game has been spotty at best. The play calls by OC James Franklin have done little to account for the weaknesses of the offense or to play to its strengths. Considering all that Turner has still struggled to play with the proficiency you would expect from a senior with three years of playing experience. He has far too many critical mistakes and missed opportunities for an offense that cannot afford to put the defense in difficult positions. Local media are reporting that Friedgen has acknowledged this and will probably starting giving Jamarr Robinson and even freshman Danny O'Brien some playing time in the remaining games.

I don't think Robinson or O'Brien give Maryland a better chance to win games than Chris Turner but at this point winning an extra game or two doesn't make much difference when you are playing for next season anyway. Turner has done enough to play his way out of a starting spot and the staff cannot go into next season with next to no experience at quarterback just because they don't want to bench a senior starter. It is unfortunate that Turner's career may end on the bench but he has little else but himself to blame if the staff make that call.

The running back situation continues to be a problem as Davin Meggett and Gary Douglas ran well but both fumbled at critical times. Douglas has a shoulder injury that will keep him out for a few weeks. With Da'Rel Scott already sidelined true freshman Caleb Porzel will get more touches at running back. Douglas' injury may force the staff to take another long look at Morgan Green unless they want to burn another redshirt and put D.J. Adams into the mix.

The receivers had a rough day. Torrey Smith was shut down by Virginia while Adrian Cannon was largely ineffective. I'm not sure why the staff is so fixated on La'Quan Wiliams but he continues to get passes thrown his way even though he is maybe the fourth best receiver on the team. Ronnie Tyler is filling the same role that Danny Oquendo had the last few seasons as a sure handed possession receiver. Kerry Boykins is getting a bigger role as the season has gone on but had a rough outing. He fumbled twice but was bailed out when Maryland recovered one and the officials reversed a call on the field ruling his second an incomplete pass instead. He also had a special teams gaffe that allowed a 49 yard kickoff return right before halftime that should have resulted in a field goal for Virginia. Al Groh elected to punt on fourth down on the Maryland 35 yard line.

As I mentioned earlier I thought the line looked much better with Campbell back in action. The team rushed for 126 yards and Turner was only sacked once. The backs combined for 124 yards on 24 carries for an impressive 5.2 yards per attempt. Douglas and Meggett fumbled early and that probably made Franklin, who called the game from the booth interestingly, shy away from the running game. That turned out to be a mistake.

The defense had a very good game. Virginia's offense was stymied the whole afternoon and the Wahoos only amassed 201 total yards. Sewell was knocked out of the game and sacked five times. Linebacker Adrian Moten was a wrecking crew with two sacks and a forced fumble. Alex Wujciak had probably his best game of the season as a physical force at the line of scrimmage. Wujciak was very effective shadowing the athletic Sewell and making stops when he tried to scramble. Demetrius Hartsfield played with a cast on his hand and still made seven tackles. Ben Pooler replaced Hartsfeld in the starting lineup and was impressive with his aggressive play that recorded two tackles for a loss. Pooler's play may allow Maryland to weather the loss of Hartsfeld if he undergoes surgery as he is expected.

Cameron Chism seems to be splitting time with Richard Taylor at the other corner position. Either way Taylor has become a valuable nickle back in certain packages.

With a new scheme and many young players the defense will be inconsistent. They will have games like they did against Clemson and Virginia yet also get torched as they did at Wake Forest. Overall the unit is improving and I think has great potential for next season. At this point the staff needs to start evaluating the offensive players and figuring out who can be the cornerstone's of next seasons starting group and who are merely backups because the meaningful games are all but over for this squad.

My Week 8 Poll

1 Alabama 2
2 Florida
3 Southern Cal 1
4 Texas 3
5 Boise State 1
6 TCU 1
7 Iowa 4
8 Cincinnati 2
9 LSU 1
10 Oklahoma State 2
11 Penn State 4
12 Oregon 4
13 Georgia Tech 6
14 Virginia Tech 5
15 Miami (Florida) 2
16 Ohio State 11
17 Brigham Young 1
18 Kansas 4
19 South Carolina 3
20 Utah 5
21 Houston
22 Pittsburgh
23 Texas Tech
24 South Florida 4
25 Nebraska 12
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Oklahoma (#21), Missouri (#23), Mississippi (#24).

Friday, October 16, 2009

Gary Williams, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you

Woo, woo, woo. In the midst of a football season that has turned into something resembling a terminal wasting disease it is a relief that college basketball season kicks off tonight with the annual Midnight Madness celebrations across the country. I have to confess that in some of the recent seasons I felt a mixture of anxiety and excitement at the start of the season because the Maryland basketball teams of the recent past have never been a sure thing in regards to the only post season play that matters, the NCAA Tournament. This year, however, optimism abounds with the return of senior Grievis Vasquez and the arrival of two players who look, and play, like legitimate low post players. As head coach Gary Williams indicated in his press conference nothing is guaranteed to this group but with a weakened ACC and a team deep and experienced at the most important positions they are poised to do some damage in the league. By Thanksgiving they will likely have more wins than the football team.

As for the football team the weather forecast for Saturday's game is supposed to match the outlook for this season, cold, rainy and bleak. With Virginia's do-everything running back Mikell Simpson doubtful with a neck injury it isn't clear who has an advantage if they play on a soaked and muddy quagmire. Neither team has been a good running offense with Virginia averaging 2.9 yards per carry and Maryland coming in at 2.7 but Virginia is more committed to the run averaging 120 yards per game compared to Maryland's 96 yards per game. Neither offensive line can protect the quarterback as Virginia is 117th in the NCAA with 3.8 sacks allowed per game and the Terps at 115th with 3.7 sacks allowed per game. This is the kind of sloppy weather game that turns on some defensive back slipping and falling on a deep touchdown pass, a muffed punt or the quarterback fumbling the ball at a critical moment. I only give Maryland a slight edge because they are at home but in terms of confidence the Cavaliers are flying high after rolling over Indiana last week. Thank goodness basketball season is here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Skinner Fillets Terps D

Virtually everything changed from last week's feel good win over Clemson in a 42-32 pasting at the hands of Wake Forest that was no where near as competitive as the final score would indicate. Maryland's defense didn't have the luxury of going up against a freshman quarterback this week. Instead they faced the best passing offense in the ACC and one of the better in the nation (16th overall and 12th in passing efficiency) led by a record setting senior in Riley Skinner. Skinner did a masterful job of picking apart Maryland's defense in the decisive 1st half. He would slide away from the pass rush and find open receivers down field on play after play buying enough time for his targets to get open. His pass protection was excellent as compared with what Maryland's Chris Turner had to contend with but the gap between Turner and Skinner was still evident as Skinner was able to make plays and score touchdowns while Turner could not.

Wake Forest runs misdirection and counter plays as a staple of their offense but there must have been something in their film study that made them decide to attack Maryland's defense on the edges. They had great success in stringing the Terps defense out and then turning the corner or cutting back. Outside linebackers Demetrius Hartsfield and Adrian Moten struggled to contain the Demon Deacons' short passing and running game. Wake also attacked corners Cameron Chism and Anthony Wiseman with great results as both game up big plays in the passing game. Without a reliable pass rush it isn't surprising that the secondary got burned repeatedly but there were also numerous blow coverages and sloppy tackling. It was the worst performance by the secondary all season but with young players like Chism and Kenny Tate seeing as much time as they are that will happen.

The defense was virtually ineffective in doing anything to limit Wake's offense for most of the game as they surrendered touchdowns on the first five possessions which all but decided the outcome of the game. It was an abysmal performance on the road for this defense that has surrendered 94 points and over 1,000 yards in total offense in just two games. With three more road games on the schedule that should make any Maryland fan scared to death.

The horrendous play of the defense was fairly obvious to even a casual observer, all you have to do is look at the box score, but the offense escaped the scrutiny it deserved. Obscured by some late scores in garbage time of a game that was already over was how awful the offense performed again. In the first half, while the defense was getting annihilated, the offense mustered 80 total yards on 28 plays. They were 1/7 on 3rd down and half of their possessions were three and outs. The only scores they mustered were off an 85 yard kick return by Torrey Smith that gave them the ball inside the Wake 20 (requiring a fourth and goal from the one yard line to punch in) and a 50 yard field goal by Nick Ferrera. All this against a Wake Forest defense that is a fairly middling bunch ranking 9th in the ACC in total defense and 6th in scoring defense.

The running game was nonexistent even before the game became a blow out. Neither running backs Davin Meggett nor Gary Douglas will be able to replace Da'Rel Scott anytime soon and the make shift offensive line is unable to open holes for them anyway. If Maryland doesn't do something like going to a two tight end formation then look for the already poor pass blocking to get worse. Only four teams in college football are worse at protecting the QB than Maryland right now: Tulsa, Virginia, Miami(OH) and Washington State. The only way this team will win games is to control the clock and keep the defense off the field. Chris Turner is already skittish and shell shocked early in games. Even when he gets protection and has time to throw his accuracy and timing are inconsistent. Turner needs to help his weak offensive line by reading the defense more rapidly and getting rid of the ball to avoid sacks. When Wake's defense let up in the 4th quarter he was able to move the ball a little better but it was too little too late.

It was good to see Adrian Cannon have his best game of the season with two late touchdown catches. It remains to be seen if that was just garbage time stats against a soft defense or if Cannon has the ability to continue that going forward and complement Torrey Smith. Cannon has struggled so far this season in what was supposed to be his break out year.

Right now neither the offense or defense is good enough to win a game by dominating its side of the ball. Last week the defense bailed out the offense but this week the offense failed to prop up the defense when they needed it. The defense certainly had some glaring failures in the loss to Wake but I think it is the offense that has the most fundamental problems in both personnel and schemes.

Week 7 Poll

1 Texas
2 Florida
3 Alabama
4 Southern Cal
5 Ohio State 1
6 Boise State 1
7 TCU 1
8 LSU 3
9 Virginia Tech
10 Cincinnati
11 Iowa 4
12 Oklahoma State 1
13 Nebraska 1
14 Kansas
15 Penn State 1
16 Oregon 2
17 Miami (Florida) 2
18 Brigham Young 2
19 Georgia Tech 3
20 South Florida 3
21 Oklahoma
22 South Carolina
23 Missouri
24 Mississippi 11
25 Utah
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Georgia (#17), Wisconsin (#24), Auburn (#25).